The last time Liverpool lined up at Stamford Bridge, they were still finding their feet. Now they are confidently speeding ahead, and are after victory again.
Twenty two days after the Reds Lounge in Anfield’s Centenary Stand was the scene of a frenzied pile up of press folk for Jurgen Klopp’s unveiling came the clearest indication that the hysteria over the German’s appointment was worth it.
Liverpool had a managerial heavyweight in their corner, and after bobbing and weaving during his first four games in charge, the kill finally arrived at Stamford Bridge on October 31.
Chelsea, having breached the visitors’ defence in under five minutes, were then floored by a side who possessed more conviction, clarity and combativeness, with Philippe Coutinho masterful in a 3-1 victory.
The Blues were left with conspiracy theories and continuing erosion until Jose Mourinho’s sacking less than two months later. He was out, but his opposite number’s methods were on the up.
The result was Klopp’s first Premier League triumph, his first conquest away from Anfield and the first sizeable statement under his tenure. The manager’s message of implementing “full throttle football and taking it to the limit every single game” was executed superbly in southwest London, Liverpool carrying out their tactical blueprint “with a big heart” as per the German’s request.
In the 10 months since that trip to the capital, the Reds have dined on and digested more of Klopp’s demands. Having enjoyed an intensive, educational pre-season with the 49-year-old and his backroom team, there is no ambiguity about how Liverpool intend to play.
Aggressive, unrelenting, authoritative and unflinching, the Merseysiders want to make their opponents as uncomfortable as possible. To that end, six of the matchday squad from last season’s meeting with Chelsea have been moved on.
Martin Skrtel, a starter in that triumph, exited this summer along with Christian Benteke – scorer of the third goal at the Bridge – Joe Allen, Jordon Ibe, Joao Carlos Teixeira and Adam Bogdan, who is at Wigan on loan.
Liverpool have injected the fast and furious speed of Sadio Mane, a more assertive goalkeeper in Loris Karius, the versatility and intelligence of Gini Wijnaldum, unmistakable class at the back in Joel Matip, the seasoned Ragnar Klavan, an abundance of potential in the young Marko Grujic and the wisdom of old hand Alex Manninger.
Klopp has more ammunition and variety at his disposal, with the signings recruited primarily on how they could improve Liverpool’s approach. In the five games the club have tackled thus far in 2016-17, a 2-0 reverse at Burnley remains the only blemish to an accomplished start which has seen the Reds run out against the top three Premier League teams from last season, hitting a combined eight goals against runners-up Arsenal and champions Leicester, while being the superior side in a 1-1 draw at Tottenham.
A core concern for Liverpool last season was the inconsistency which married massive victories over the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City with miserable defeats at Newcastle and Watford.
They appear more equipped to halt the instability and are determined to ensure Burnley remains the sole black sheep of their results.
In the five games preceding Liverpool’s last outing at Stamford Bridge, the side had scored four goals. They bounce into Chelsea’s backyard this time around as the league’s most successful attack in 2016, with 14 goals in the same amount of fixtures leading up to Friday night’s showdown.
Liverpool were finding their feet in the previous competitive meeting, but are now sprinting confidently. A “real challenge” awaits as per Klopp’s analysis having faced Antonio Conte’s men in pre-season – “they defend well and attack quick and strong, so it’s not the most easy job in world football” – but the Reds feel primed to record back-to-back league wins at Stamford Bridge for only the second time in 40 years.
Friday’s fixture marks their third visit to London already this season, and another positive performance in the capital is expected.
“We are quite confident that we can do something there,” the manager said at Melwood. Liverpool have yet another opportunity to translate his message on the pitch against Chelsea.